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FilmsAsia: Asian film reviews
Soh Yun-Huei
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   Jan Dara  


Jan Dara

Reviewed by Soh Yun-Huei

Director: Nonzee Nimibutr
Writing Credits: Nonzee Nimibutr, Sirapak Paoboonkerd, Utsana Phleungtham
Starring: Suwinit Panjamawat, Santisuk Promsiri, Christy Chung, Eakarat Sarsukh
Genre: Drama
Country: Thailand
Language: Thai
Year released: 2003
Runtime: 120 min
Rating: * * (out of four stars)

Jan Dara is directed by Nonzee Nimibutr, who had last brought Nang Nak to the screen. Based on Usana Ploengtham’s novel The Story Of Jan Dara (written half a century ago), Jan Dara is a tale of sex, revenge and retribution, set in Bangkok in the 1930s. Although there is a copious amount of sex, a slew of disturbing subplots, and a lot of well-photographed scenes, Jan Dara fails to impress, and feels nothing more than a glorified Category III movie. Even the much-touted scenes of Christy Chung getting naked do not save Jan Dara from becoming a mediocre movie.

Jan Dara (first played by Suwinit Panjamawat) began life already unloved and abandoned – his mother died while giving birth to him, and ever since then his father Khun Luang (Santisuk Promsiri) had termed him as "Jan-rai" (bastard). Fortunately, he is taken under the wing of Aunt Waad (Wipawee Charoenpura), who is a surrogate wife to Khun Luang. From young, Jan witnesses his father having sex with almost every female servant in the house, and it is not hard to chance upon Khun Luang with his pants down, humping a woman. Aunt Waad soon gives birth to a girl named Khun Kaew (Patharawarin Timkul), but Khun Luang teaches her to hate Jan from young.

One of Khun Luang’s many wives, Khun Boonlueang (Christy Chung), moves into the house when Jan becomes a teenager. Soon, Jan becomes obsessed with her, and spends almost every moment with her. Their relationship becomes sexual, but Jan is thrown out of the house when Khun Kaew falsely accuses him of rape. Flash forward years later, and the grown Jan (Eakarat Sarsukh) is invited to return to the family to marry Khun Kaew in a face-saving marriage – it turns out that she had become pregnant out of wedlock. The vengeful Jan takes over the household, and begins to wreak revenge on Khun Luang. However, Jan does not realize that he is unconsciously following in the footsteps of his father, and that his actions could have wider repercussions than he expected.

Jan Dara borders on the smutty – there is way too much sex in the movie, of which a large number do not forward the plot at all. After a while, the sequences become repetitive and do not hold the audience’s interest, despite touching on generally taboo subjects like incest, rape, and lesbianism. Although it can be argued that some of these scenes serve a purpose, one can’t help but feel that most of it is rather gratuitous. Of course, Jan Dara does feature lauded Asian sex bomb Christy Chung baring her body, so it must be said that the film will appeal to some audiences based just on this fact alone.

That aside, the Thai actors cast in Jan Dara are all rather credible in their roles, especially Patharawarin Timkul, whose performance as the willful, spiteful stepsister is the standout amongst the cast. Despite the high fee paid for Christy Chung’s appearance, she is nothing more than a glorified doll, and displays less thespian skills than she does her body. Jan Dara is also beautifully photographed at times with scenes saturated with color and well-composed shots. The score is also aurally pleasing, with a generous use of traditional Asian percussion instruments.

However, the plot of Jan Dara seems a little convoluted, and certain scenes in the film beggar belief – for example, a pivotal (but highly unlikely) scene which finds two characters indulging in steamy intercourse whilst bombs are falling all around them. There also seem to be a bit too many loose ends to tie up in the final reel, resulting in a very rushed denouement, with the camera flitting from scene to scene and character to character, but without real focus.

Also, Nonzee Nimbutr commits the crime of leaving nothing to the audience’s imagination – a scene features a character chancing upon a shocking event, and although it can be easily deduced that the character collapses (the camera pulls back in an upward arc, and a "thud" is heard on the soundtrack), a later scene films the actual collapse of the character. Another example is that of Jan Dara’s heritage, which is easily deduced midway through the film, but Nonzee insists on showing the audience what happened in a final black and white sequence. By showing everything, Nonzee does not allow the audience to become actively involved in the film, but turns them into passive (and thus more easily bored) observers. Not that there would have been much to involve oneself in, but the effort would still have been appreciated.

Final Word: One strictly for fans of flesh – or Christy Chung. Note that the film is in Thai, with English and Chinese subtitles.